Ely Eel Festival
Ely may well be England’s second smallest city, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in history and culture alongside picturesque views. A half hour drive from Cambridge (or 15 minutes by train) this fascinating city hosts a variety of interesting annual events, none more so than the quirky Eel Weekend.
Its name derives from its abundant eel heritage having once been an island surrounded by fen marshland. An Ideal habitat for eels, which were a great source of income for the community and a staple food. Ely is understandably proud of its eely heritage, visitors can learn more about it by enjoying a stroll around its eel trail. It tells the story of the city’s eel heritage and of eels themselves through architecture and some fascinating public art.
The city also celebrates these wiggly creatures in style with an annual three day Eel Festival which began 15 years ago. Coinciding with the first May bank holiday it’s an ideal family friendly event with something for everyone. The festival fosters a thriving community feel whilst also enticing visitors to discover its fascinating heritage. I wanted to experience some of the festival fun myself this year so on an unusually beautiful day for a bank holiday weekend, I slathered on the sun cream (not enough as it turned out…ouch..!) and spent my Saturday wandering around the city enjoying the atmosphere.
Saturday is main festival day and the gorgeous weather brought out a huge crowd enjoying the atmosphere in beautiful Jubilee Gardens by the river. We were treated to live music, dancing, competitions (such as eel throwing…a bit like welly wanging but with stuffed toy eels!) and food, drink and craft stalls. Eclectic festival fringe events also took place around the city with Morris Dancing groups performing their own versions of a very British tradition. Another British tradition celebrated at the festival was the British Town Crier championships with Town Criers from across the country battling it out. They must have been very uncomfortable in full costume, but seemed to be enjoying themselves entertaining the crowds sat by the river.
The community aspect of the festival was brilliantly showcased with a 70 metre ‘Eel Wiggle’ consisting of up to 1000 amazing painted stones, pebbles or rocks picturing eels in all kinds of characterisation, colours and sizes. Ely’s rock painting group, Spotted in Ely Rocks, took on a challenge to attempt a world record for longest line of painted rocks. It was an amazing effort by adults and schoolchildren alike. I’d been following it all on the Facebook page in the weeks leading up to the festival and it was amazing to see them all in one big colourfully creative line. (See more about rock painting at the end of this post)
The remaining two days of the weekend is food orientated, with food and drink festival on Palace Green, home of the majestic Ely Cathedral. This year foodies were able to enjoy a choice of 75 artisan traders, a great selection of street food and demonstrations from several celebrity chefs.
The weekend was another success and is definitely worth a visit if you are in Cambridgeshire, looking for something to do during the first May bank holiday next year. Ely itself is also a great place to visit throughout the year, so watch this space for more posts as I explore more of what the city has to offer visitors.
Find out more about everything that Ely has to offer on the Visit Ely website
Eel Festival Weekend
Lots of helpful information about the festival can be found here
Spotted in Ely Rocks is just one of the many groups around the world who paint rocks to hide for others to find, to put a smile on a strangers’ face. If you have never discovered the world of painting rocks to hide for others to find here’s a link to the origins. It’s a fun thing to do, something I have started doing and may well blog about in the coming months.